Saturday 30 June 2012

The War Machines

"Doctor Who is required."

There you go. It's there in the script. In the canon. He really is called Dr. Who. You would think all those silly fans who insist he's called 'The Doctor' would just shut up. That line is one of a number of reasons for loving this story.

The War Machines feels very different from what has gone before. For the first time since Planet of the Giants, we have a story entirely set on contemporary Earth. We have some elements that would become a standard feature, Dr. Who working with an establishment figure, a military presence and a renegade computer seeking to control people. The War Machines is a template for much that would come later. Personally, this is not the kind of Doctor Who I like. I very much prefer the more fantastical Hartnell material, as well as the historical serials, but I do enjoy the freshness of this story and the sense of departure in it. Added to this, The War Machines gives us to new companions who are very different to previous companions, being trendy twenty-something adults (Barbara and Ian are probably in their twenties, but they don't feel trendy in any sense). The stories that follow show them taking to TARDIS travel with an enthusiasm that contrasts very strongly with Ian and Barbara. In this, they are a also templates for the later direction of the show.

I don't care much for stories with computers as villains. Part of this is down to the fact that they make boring bad guys, but also it seems inconceivable. Computers do not have a will or a consciousness. They are not persons. A computer simply processes the information it is given. A computer is no more likely to try to take over the world than your kettle. This makes me inclined to favour the fan theory that WOTAN is in fact a Dalek plot. Is it only a coincidence that the Daleks are active on Earth at this time? The whole WOTAN business does have a very Dalek feel to it.

The War Machines themselves are a little awkward, but they are visually interesting. The real problem with them lies in the fact that we only ever see one at a time, thus reducing their impact.

William Hartnell gives an energetic and engaging performance. His illness is not at all apparent here. He has perhaps lost something of the edge that characterised his earlier performances and has settled into being a kindly grandfather figure. Yet he is still delightful to watch.

Dodo's supporters are thin on the ground, but I still love her. Her characterization is paper thin, but she is so cheerful and pleasant. The sincerity in Jackie Lane's performance contrasts very strongly with the very knowing approach taken by Maureen O'Brien. Sadly, Dodo is not the last companion to be given a clumsy departure.

Ben and Polly are an instant hit. They are both well characterized and distinct. Ben quickly develops a great rapport with Dr. Who. Polly is also a strong personality. It is perhaps a little disappointing that she seems so meek and timid when a nightclub patron approaches her with immoral intentions. This highlights the way her character would frequently be inconsistently portrayed, with her being sassy, confident and sarcastic one minute and then whimpering with terror a few minutes later. Tragically, this is the only completely surviving story to feature this pair.

The War Machines is a light and enjoyable story at the tail end of the Hartnell era. While it is far from perfect, it deserves to be appreciated.

Saturday 23 June 2012


There are fans who defend Timelash. I wish I could do that, but I just don't enjoy Timelash enough to defend it. It's fun in places and has a cheerful pantomime feel that part of me wants to admire. It's also interesting that in some ways it functions as a sort of parody of bad Doctor Who, sharing many of its faults with countless other Doctor Who stories, for instance a planent with about six inhabitants. I don't think that redeems it though.

The plot is just bonkers. How did the Borad ever take over Karfel? Why does he chuck people down a time tunnel instead of just shooting them or even feeding them to the Morlocks? How are people actually able to climb into the time vortex? The Borad is visually interesting and everybody agrees this is a redeeming feature, but he feels like an awful lot of other Doctor Who villains.

The presence of HG Wells feels like an embarrassment, primarily because the writer don't seem to have done any research into what kind of person HG Wells actually was. There seems little resemblance between our Herbert and the historical figure.

There is a place for Doctor Who stories that are silly in a tongue-in-cheek way. I absolutely love Delta and the Bannermen. However, Delta and the Bannermen actually feels like an intelligent story. Timelash just feels lazy.

Saturday 9 June 2012

World Game, by Terrance Dicks (BBC Novel)

In some ways World Game is a Terrance Dicks' greatest hits. We have his trademark simple prose, references to his televised stories, notably including the appearance of a vampire and a Raston Warrior Robot, interaction with historical figures, skullduggery on Gallifrey and that famous line about the Mind-Probe. If you are a long-standing Doctor Who fan, you are pwobably familiar with all these tropes and love them too. We also get Terrance Dicks' worst literary tendency, with a female companion being threatened with rape.

Yet World Game also does something very interesting. This is the only novel set in Season 6B, that hypothetical period between The War Games and Spearhead from Space. This makes for something quite interesting and different. It also gets the Second Doctor away from Jamie, allowing us to see a different side to him. I am a believer in Season 6B. I think this makes the most sense out of anomalies in The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors. It also allows us a time period in which the events of the Second Doctor TV Comic strips can be squeezed.

Dicks' prose is as simple as ever, but it reads very easily and makes for a light and entertaining read. Yet at the same time, there is a massive amount of historical information squeezed in. Anybody reading this novel is going to learn a lot about the Napoleonic Wars. Dicks has always taken the educational aspect of Doctor Who seriously in his novels. I remember when I was eleven years old, how Timewyrm Exodus inspired me to read lots of books about the Third Reich.

I don't think Dicks quite succeeds in capturing the Second Doctor. As with other Doctors, he tends to make him seem a little too much like the Third Doctor. His companion, Lady Serena was very likeable, even if she was an awful lot like Romana I. I think it was rather a shame that she was killed off.

World Game lacks the drama and intensity of Timewyrm Exodus, but it is still one of Terrance Dicks' best novels and is very enjoyable. The cover with Troughton dressed up as Napoleon is delightful too.